This week is National Advance Care Planning Week, an initiative of Advance Care Planning Australia.
Held annually, the week encourages all Australians to make their preferences about their health care known to their loved ones. It also encourages Australians to have conversations with elderly relatives about how they want to be cared for as they approach the end of their life.
Only 14 per cent of Australians have an Advance Care Directive.
The importance of Advance Care Planning was made especially clear following the release of the West Australian Joint Select Committee report into end-of-life choices.
That report found that the rate of Advance Care Planning instruments for adults in Western Australia was 7.5 per cent, which is not much more than half the national average. The Committee suggested that this was because the both the medical profession and the general community has a poor understanding of Advance Care Plans, and that medical professionals are not prepared to talk about death and dying with their patients.
The report also found that the benefits of palliative care would be more readily available to patients “if difficult discussions about death and dying took place earlier.”
Studies have shown that advance care planning increases the use of palliative care, helping those with terminal illnesses die in the place of their choice, reducing the number and/or length of hospital admissions, and improve the bereavement experience of families, who report less stress, anxiety and depression after the death of their loved ones.
Given this, in addition to investing more into palliative care (which is drastically under-resourced), Western Australia – and other states considering legalising euthanasia and assisted suicide – should also invest more in increasing community awareness and uptake of advance care plans.